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John Edwards, Brought Home Again


John Edwards is posing in front of his old house again – this time, for a story in the New York Times.  It’s a story he’s told many, many times – this is from my piece on during campaigning in South Carolina in February 2004:

Edwards tells South Carolina audiences that he’s one of them, and knows what it’s like to come from humble beginnings. “I was born in South Carolina,” he says. “My parents brought me home to a mill village. My father worked in a mill all his life. I will never forget where I came from.” In case anyone misses the point, at most appearances, the sound system blares out John Mellencamp’s “Small Town,” with its lyrics, “I cannot forget where it is that I come from . . .”

But the story is slightly more complicated than that. After his birth, Edwards’s parents did indeed bring him home to a mill village; in TV and print ads, the campaign has often used pictures of the tiny house where the family lived. But the ads don’t mention that Edwards lived in the house from the time of his birth until he was . . . one year old. By then, his father had been promoted at the mill and the family moved to a much nicer home. That house does not appear in Edwards’s commercials.

That doesn’t mean the family was well off, or that Edwards is a liar, just that his life was not quite as humble as he sometimes suggests. Edwards obviously was not born to privilege, and he became a successful multimillionaire lawyer by his own talent and work, and yet for some reason he still feels the need to embellish the story a bit.

And this, from a story on Edwards in a Democratic debate in September:
“Well, first of all, I think if you look at my entire life, I am proud of what I’ve spent my life doing,” he told Russert. “I’m not perfect. There’s not a single person on this stage who’s perfect, but I came from a family — I was born into nothing. I was brought home to a two-room house in a mill village…”

By the way, Edwards’s line, “I was brought home to a two-room house in a mill village” was carefully crafted, a reflection of his years of experience as a personal injury lawyer. Yes, after he was born he was brought home to a small house. But within a year his family moved to a better house as his father, a mill worker, began a rise that eventually made him a supervisor.